Here are new details on Virginia Beach’s free mental health clinic

The Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic at Easterseals Grand Opening in Washington, D.C. Cohen Veterans Network was found in April 2016 with a goal of constructing 25 free mental health clinics for veterans and their families by 2020. A clinic will open in Virginia Beach by the end of this year (Courtesy of Cohen Veterans Network)
The Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic at Easterseals Grand Opening in Washington, D.C. Cohen Veterans Network was found in April 2016 with a goal of constructing 25 free mental health clinics for veterans and their families by 2020. A clinic will open in Virginia Beach by the end of this year (Courtesy of Cohen Veterans Network)

VIRGINIA BEACH — Military veterans and their families in need of mental health care will soon find relief, as a privately-funded mental health facility will open in Virginia Beach by the end of 2018.

Southside Daily reported on March 28 that Cohen Veterans Network will be opening a free mental health clinic in Virginia Beach. Here are a few updates about the clinic and what Hampton Roads veterans and their families should expect:

CVN will never charge veterans for mental health care

CVN is privately funded and, according to its CEO Anthony Hassan, will never take money out-of-pocket from veterans.

“To date, we haven’t accepted a dime; Cohen Veterans Network will never charge veterans for care,” Hassan said.

CVN recently began accepting insurance payments from Tricare, however. The clinic network began accepting insurance payments to help supplement operating expenses.

“It costs a pretty penny to operate these clinics,” Hassan said. “For the long term sustainability of the network and to be good stewards of Mr. (Steven) Cohen’s generosity, we felt recouping some of our expenses through insurance payments was necessary.”

CVN is entirely supported by Cohen, a billionaire hedge-fund manager who pledged $275 million to open the clinics in 2016 to combat PTSD in veterans. Hassan said Cohen set a goal of 25 clinics by 2020. The first clinic opened in April 2016, and the first five were built up by end of that year. There are currently 10 clinics opened nationwide, with new clinics slated to open this fall in Orlando, Tacoma and San Diego.

Cohen was not available for comment on this story.

Where in Virginia Beach will the clinic be located?

Although a lease has not been signed yet, Hassan said his first choice for a location in Virginia Beach is on the out edges of the Kempsville area, near Princess Anne Road and South Plaza Trail.

However, Hassan said, “I’ve learned that nothing is certain until you sign on the dotted line.”

Hassan said he hopes to have Virginia Beach’s clinic location finalized in the next few weeks.

Why did CVN pick Virginia Beach of all Hampton Roads cities?

Although CVN did select Virginia Beach as its next location, Hassan said he doesn’t “see it as ‘choosing a city,’ I see it as choosing an area” because CVN will be serving the Hampton Roads region.

During focus groups that Hassan and his team held with stakeholders, Hassan said the stakeholders found “it an easier commute getting to Virginia Beach” than it is to get to the peninsula. Virginia Beach having the largest population of any Hampton Roads city was also a factor.

“Now there’s never an ideal location in terms where we locate a clinic in any city we go to,” Hassan said. “Everybody wants us to be somewhere else. But I had to come to the conclusion that this was the best”

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But Hassan emphasized that all Hampton Roads veterans and their families will be able to use technology to access medical professionals.

“Because of our model, we use ‘Telehealth,’ which allows us to reach families who may not be able to get to the clinic to provide care,” he said.

Telehealth is a HIPPA-secure video teleconferencing platform that allows for everyone to get a face-to-face appointment. Veterans must be located in Virginia in order to use Telehealth — the Virginia Beach location can only serve the state of Virginia, since doctors in that clinic are most likely only licensed to practice medicine in this state.

Why post-9/11 veterans

CVN sees post-9/11 veterans, but also accepts pre-9/11 veterans as well based on availability, Hassan said. About 20 percent of CVN’s patients are currently pre-9/11 veterans.

However, CVN focuses on post-9/11 veterans and their families “because we really want to try and get ahead of the problem. We want to be able to help them now so that their problems don’t become chronic or unmanageable,” Hassan said.

“Unfortunately our Vietnam veterans did not get the care they needed and many of them are suffering from lifelong, chronic conditions,” Hassan added. “Our whole goal here is to get ahead of the problem, stay engaged, save lives, save these families, help their children as they all transition away from combat and away from the military into civilian lives. We want to be there for them and provide support when they need it the most.”

Part of that support involves tapping CVN’s community partners that they cultivate in each area.

“If you come to us for clinical care, if you shared with us a need for those things, we will support them and provide a referral to some of our community partners,” Hassan said.

Those community partners may include outside organizations providing unemployment and financial services, housing placement or legal guidance.

What’s next for CVN?

Hassan said he cant predict the future, of course, but that he knows where he would like CVN to be after 2020

“We believe that the 25 clinics we will have running by 2020 — with roughly 25,000 patients and about 250,000 patient encounters every year — will give us a lot to work with to advance the field. We can learn a lot,” he said.

Hassan said Cohen wants CVN to help grow the next generation of clinicians.

“We can look to advance clinical practices through pilot trials; we’re looking to advance our work in telemedicine, and also wearables, developing applications, and looking for new, innovative ways to engage veterans and their family members.”

Moving forward, Hassan wants CVN to be the nationwide leader of veterans’ mental health research.

“We will be the largest group outside of the VA and DOD (Department of Defense) doing this kind of work in a concentrated way,” Hassan said, “so we think we can really help advance the field.”

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